Tyrone Williams, 'Written By H'Self' & 'Cant'
Alan Golding, Lily Applebaum, and Herman Beavers joined Al Filreis in the Wexler Studio at the Kelly Writers House — the first time PoemTalk recorded in the new studio — to discuss two short poems by Tyrone Williams that appear in the book published by Omnidawn in 2008 called On Spec. The two poems appear in the book’s first section, called “Eshuneutics.” “Written By H’Self” [text] is the first poem in the section and the very first in the book. “Cant” [text] appears fourth in the book. We based our discussion on the recording of the two poems, available with many others on Williams’s PennSound author page, made during a reading he gave in the Segue Series at the Bowery Poetry Club in December 2007, prior to the book’s publication.
These densely allusive poems meant that our first task was to peel back at least some of the layers of referentiality; yet the layers overlap, are torqued, punned, entendred, homophoned, and doubly and triply and quadrupally historicized — sometimes in one word or phrase, conjuring social, geographical, historical, juridical, psychological, musical, poetic, theoretical registers. Among the allusions we trace: Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent”; the Washington/DuBois debate over the “Talented Tenth”; the “one-drop” racial rule; the John Henry Complex; the Cumberland Gap as an escape route; the Gap (source for jeans) and marketing fetishes; the folkloric figure of Stagger Lee, who murdered for the swiping of his Stetson; the Happy Feet of African American dancers and Disney animationists; the signature of the slave narrativist, needed to “prove” her and his capacity for self-authoring; Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition speech of 1896; “Terrible Tom” with his three historical personages, including the blind autistic musician whose race and music are categorically indecipherable; the historical relegation of black musicians to vernacular music; and Moby-Dick. After all this, Herman Beavers contends that Tyrone Williams “sings the holes in history” and indicates ways in which “History with a capital H is not adequate to talk about all this stuff.” And what alternatively can be adequate? Well, we’d argue: poetry — indeed, poems as specific and yet as capacious as Tyrone Williams’s.
Our director and engineer for this eighty-sixth episode in our series was Zach Carduner. Our editor was Amaris Cuchanski. And we at Kelly Writers House and PennSound sent a sweet thankful shout-out to Gary and Nina Wexler for making our dream of a recording studio here a reality.
PennSound podcast #43
Amaris Cuchanski has edited and now introduces a 20-minute excerpt from a one-hour recording made of an October 17, 2012, event at the Kelly Writers House featuring conceptualist writing by women, celebrating the publication of I'll Drown My Book. This excerpt is episode 43 in the PennSound podcast series. You can hear the entire recording — and indeed watch a video recording — of the event by visiting the Kelly Writers House web calendar entry and by visiting the speak PennSound page created for the audio recordings, which have there been segmented.
Nicki Resnikoff attended the event and was asked by the staff of the Writers House to describe what she witnessed. This is what Nicki wrote:
On Wednesday October 17th, the Arts Cafe was filled with members of the KWH community for what turned out to be a night of poetry — and laughter — as Laynie Browne hosted a reading from the recently released anthology of women’s conceptual writing, I’ll Drown My Book. Editor Browne took the podium to give a brief introduction to the anthology. She explained that the editors put this collection together with the intent of “opening, not binding, the term conceptual writing.” Browne then gave a brief introduction to each of the five readers for the night, mentioning some of their accomplishments and credentials. Each of the featured poets read from their own contribution to I’ll Drown My Book, as well as a selection from the anthology by another poet. Lee Ann Brown read three poems from her project “Philtre,” which she wrote while experiencing artwork created by others. She then read a piece in the anthology from Redell Olsen’s Punk Faun. Brown chose this selection as a companion to hers as it “takes poetry into the realm of art and performance in a very real way.” Rachel Blau DuPlessis read her piece “Draft 98: Canzone,” which she said came from a “realm of cultural pillaging.” Her other selected reading from the anthology was from Norma Cole’s “Collective Memory.” Jena Osman read from “Financial District,” which was first in her book Deborah Richards. Kristen Prevallet opted not to read from her piece in the anthology, given its essayistic form. In order to “convey the heart of it,” she called up a volunteer to whom she explained the essay. The volunteer then summarized this for the audience, calling the work “a take on space.” Prevallet also read from “Public Sphere and Private Space” by Rachel Levitsky. Cecilia Vicuna closed out the program. She gave no introduction to her energetic reading other than silently smoothing her clothes and hair while the room waited for her bilingual presentation. After performing two pieces, Vicuna took the time to note that all of the pieces of the night were connected by the idea of time travel, and to address her colleagues saying, “It was so incredibly beautiful to hear you all.” Vicuna then opened the anthology to show her contribution: abstract drawings, which she proceeded to “read” to the audience.
On February 20, 2012, Erin Mouré traveled from Calgary, Alberta, to read at a Belladonna* event, part of the “HOT TEXTS” project. She read with Rachel Levitsky and Christian Hawkey, and was introduced by Emily Skillings. Skillings and Krystal Languell hosted the event, which took place at The Way Station in Prospect Heights Brooklyn. Episode #41 of the PennSound podcasts series, hosted and edited by Emily Harnett, features a 20-minute excerpt from the reading after a three-minute introduction.
James Schuyler, 'February'
Bernadette Mayer, Julia Bloch, and erica kaufman joined Al Filreis to discuss James Schuyler’s poem “February.” Schuyler read the poem at the Dia Art Foundation in New York on November 15, 1988. John Ashbery gave the introduction, emphasizing how reluctant Schuyler was to read in public. He noted: “As far as I know, this is the first public [reading] he has ever given.” One can tell from the tone of Ashbery’s remarks that he felt that he and the audience were in for a rare treat, a savoring for which years of waiting were worthwhile. Schuyler then read 17 poems, and one of them indeed was “February.” The poem was published in Freely Espousing (p. 15) and reprinted in Selected Poems (p. 6) and in Collected Poems (p. 4). Bernadette is astonished by the emphatic use of color, feeling it almost to be a knowing rule or constraint, and she herself derived from admiration of this very poem several color-poem experiments of her own. Julia then catalogues the coloration of what is otherwise typically a drab time of year in New York. And erica is delighted to assert that this is a “New York poem.” “Listening to him read,” erica added, “heightened my sense of one thing he does in his poems that I just love: the feeling you get that you’re getting access to something that’s pretty private. You’re watching a private reading of his own space, but that space he’s describing is also a space that’s physical and somewhat public.” So is “February” a nature poem? Perhaps an urban nature poem? Ashbery’s introduction on this point might have been a gloss on our poem: “He has been called a nature poet and it’s true that nature observed does play a large role in his poetry, but he’s about as far from Wordsworth as you can get …. Nature is merely what is adjacent, what one looks out on all the time.”
Toward the end of this episode Al and Julia note that earlier on the day of recording we hosted a live worldwide interactive webcast, featuring Bernadette Mayer, as part of the “ModPo” open online course. The photo atop this episode entry is a screenshot from that webcast. You can watch it here.
Our engineer for this episode of PoemTalk was Zach Carduner, and our editor is Amaris Cuchanski.
A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can't see
making a bit of pink
I can't quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can't remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we'd gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They're just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can't get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She's so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It's getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It's the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It's the shape of a tulip.
It's the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It's a day like any other.
H.D., 'Helen in Egypt'
Julia Bloch, Dee Morris, and Annette Debo joined Al Filreis for this extended episode of PoemTalk, and their task — to give a sense of the whole of H.D.’s lyric epic Helen in Egypt through a discussion of five selected small parts — certainly pushed at the limit of PoemTalk’s scope and mode. But afforded an extra fifteen minutes of air time, and given what we like to think is a careful selection of poems, we hope and expect that new readers of this modernist epic — this radical revision of the Helen myth — will be intrigued enough to purchase a copy of the 304-page New Directions volume and explore further for themselves. And even those experienced with the open-ended ways of this long poem will find something new in these expert responses to each other and to Al’s questions.
The first three poems are sections 6, 7, and 8 of Palinode, Book One, pages 11–17 in the book — where (in all three) Helen is encountering Achilles in Egypt (not in Troy); they are near the ocean, on the coast in the dark. Then we move to a section later in the work, section 3 of Palinode, Book Four (pages 53–54 in the book). The speaker here is apparently Achilles, and he is recalling what happens to him when he met Helen’s gaze as she (or her specter) stood on the ramparts of Troy. Finally we discuss a poem near the very end of the book — section 7 of Eidolon, Book Three (pages 251–52 of the New Directions edition). Here the speaker uses the third person and seems to speak from Achilles’s point of view; this beautiful poem makes a notable distinction on the matter of Helen’s beauty.
(At left: H.D. visiting Egypt in 1923. She was present at the opening of King Tut’s tomb.) The Helen of Egypt recordings are the only recordings on PennSound’s H.D. author page, and apparently they are the only recordings of H.D. extant. She taped herself reading from this work in Zurich in 1955. Our five sections of Helen in Egypt take H.D. some seven and a half minutes to read, approximately three times the usual length of poems featured on PoemTalk. We ask our listeners’ indulgence as they wait for us to return with our commentary on the work. Here are links to the recordings and (in four of five sections) the texts of the selected poems:
BONUS TRACK: PoemTalk proudly presents an additional recorded conversation about H.D. featuring Annette Debo, Dee Morris, and Julia Bloch. With Al Filreis they discuss H.D.’s version of imagism, with a look in particular, toward the end, at the poem “Sheltered Garden.” Here is a link to the text of that poem, and here is a link to the recording of this additional discussion.
PoemTalk this time was engineered by Chris Martin and edited by Allison Harris. Special thanks to Annette Debo for making the long journey from western North Carolina to join us at the Writers House for these conversations. We recommend to all Annette’s scholarship on H.D., for example The American H.D. and her edition of Within the Walls and What Do I Love?
Palinode, Book One, section 6:
How did we greet each other?
here in this Amen-temple,
I have all-time to remember;
he comes, he goes;
I do not know what memory calls him,
or what Spirit-master
summons him to release
(as God released him)
the imprisoned, the lost;
few were the words we said,
but the words are graven on stone,
minted on gold, stamped upon lead;
they are coins of a treasure
or the graded weights
of barter and measure;
“I am a woman of pleasure,”
I spoke ironically into the night,
for her had built me a fire,
he, Achilles, piling brushwood,
finding an old flint in his pouch,
“I thought I had lost that”;
few were the words we said,
“I am shipwrecked, I am lost,”
turning to view the stars,
swaying as before the mast,
“the season is different,
we are far from — from —”
let him forget,
let him forget.